Literature of the English Revolution
The English Revolution, also known as the Puritan Revolution and the English Civil War, officially began in 1642 with the onset of military action between King Charles I and his supporters, and the forces rallied by the Puritan Parliament. Yet the political upheaval and religious schisms which contributed to the revolution were underway long before 1642. The causes of the English Revolution are hotly debated among historians, but some agree that a combination of the struggle for power between parliament and the crown and the religious divisions between Anglicans and Puritans were the most potent forces behind the developing crisis. Political and religious pamphlets were produced in abundance during the mid-1600s. Religious sermons, often highly political in nature, were also preached and sometimes printed during this time, and, like the practice of pamphleteering, attempted to sway public opinion. Additionally, much of the poetry of this time period was focussed on the topical religious issues, issues which many maintain fueled the fire of the Revolution.
Critics such as Nicholas Tyacke (1973) stress that the revolution of the mid-1640s was already brewing in the 1620s. Tyacke notes that the Calvinism and Puritanism of England was threatened by the rise of Arminianism, the belief in God's universal grace, and in the free will of all men to obtain salvation. Calvinists and Puritans believed that salvation was predestined, that men were divided into the classes of the Elect and the Reprobate. As the House of Commons gained power in the 1640s, it wore an increasingly Puritan face, whereas King Charles I surrounded himself with Anglicans and Arminians. Stuart E. Prall (1968) also surveys the troubles of the early 1600s, demonstrating how James I, Charles's father, had failed to understand the role and power of Parliament, and had championed the cause of royal sovereignty. Prall notes that with the ascension of Charles came an increasing reliance of the crown on the Bishop of London, and therefore an increase in both political and religious tensions. These tensions exploded with armed conflict in 1642, continued for several years with the Puritans being lead by Oliver Cromwell, and lasted until the execution of Charles I in 1649. The Puritan Parliament then abolished monarchy, the House of Lords, and the Anglican Church and declared England a Commonwealth. England was ruled by Cromwell as Lord Protector until his death in 1658, after which his son Richard attempted to fill Cromwell's role. Richard was unable to do so, and following the dissolution of the Puritan Parliament in 1660, a newly elected Parliament restored the monarchy and offered the crown to Charles I's exiled son, Charles II. Thus began the Restoration.
The religious and political issues which fueled the Revolution also inspired the writers of pamphlets. William Haller (1934) describes the pamphlets of revolutionary England as being inspired by the concept of liberty, and argues that the doctrine of liberty was developed during these years and on the pages of pamphlets. Haller argues that liberty was first understood in religious terms, as men of this time conceived of organized society as a religious body with which the state was closely involved. While not the first to extoll the virtues and need for liberty, John Milton, Haller notes, wrote, in addition to his many pamphlets, the finest expression of this aspiration for liberty with his Areopagitica (1644). Some pamphlet writers supported Parliament and attacked the crown, others defended the various religious sects or asked for religious tolerance, and some even abused Parliament. While Haller stresses the importance of liberty to the pamphleteers and to the Revolution, William Lamont (1986) maintains that liberty was not the concern, not the cause or the inspiration of the Revolution. Lamont discusses several crises of the English Revolution, in which revolutionaries were not concerned with liberty, but rather with the role of bishops within the government. Most advocated stricter godly control, argues Lamont, not freedom. One of the most popular pamphleteers was William Prynne, who Lamont describes as Parliament's official apologist. In addition to Prynne's parliamentary favor, Lamont states that Prynne wrote pamphlets that were widely read among English citizens, and which demonstrate the religious consensus advocating control, not freedom. Lamont concludes that the goal of liberty may have been an unintended consequence of the activities of revolutionary Puritans, but that freedom was not their rallying cry.
It was not unheard of for pamphleteers to be arrested for their writing against the crown, or against the bishops. William Prynne was arrested in 1637 for just such an attack, notes D. H. Pennington (1970). Godfrey Davies (1939) argues that such censure was the reason for the use of the pulpit to convey political messages. In examining both ways in which political sermons influenced public opinion, as well as the crown's effort to control such preaching, Davies notes that one preacher, Henry Burton, whose sermon attacked the bishops, was punished alongside William Prynne in 1637.
Like most English people during the early and mid-1600s, including pamphleteers, preachers, and politicians, poets of this time focused heavily on religious themes. Douglas Bush (1945) surveys some of the poetry of the mid-1600s, and demonstrates the influence of the religious beliefs of poets such as George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughn, on their work. Bush notes, for example, the influence of the Bible on Herbert's poetry, and the fact that although Crashaw's father was a Puritan clergyman, he himself rebuffed Puritanism and focuses on Catholic themes and imagery in his poetry. William Lamont and Sybil Oldfield (1975) comment on the sheer obsessiveness of the recurrent subject of religion in the poetry of this time. In addition to this obsession, Lamont and Old-field note that many concerns revealed in mid-seventeenth century literature are relevant today. They argue that while the power held by Anglican bishops may no longer be an issue, we still ask ourselves: what is a just society? How is it to be realized? and Can mutually exclusive ideologies possibly be tolerated within one society?
Stuart E. Prall (essay date 1968)
SOURCE: Introduction to The Puritan Revolution: A Documentary History, edited by Stuart E. Prall, Anchor Books, 1968, pp. ix-xxii.
[In the following essay, Prall reviews the explanations proposed by historians regarding the reasons for the English Revolution and argues that a combination of factors (including the struggle for power between the crown and Parliament, the religious schism between Anglicans and Puritans, and the division among the gentry class) contributed to England's Civil War.]
Popular and scholarly interest in the era of the Puritan Revolution has never been wanting, but the past half century has seen this interest lead to an ever greater investigation into the history of English life in all its complexities from the mid-sixteenth century until the Restoration of 1660. The day when England prided itself on achieving democracy by way of evolution, whereas continental peoples were forced to take the revolutionary road, is now passing. The multiplicity of revolutions since 1917 and the mass of literature, both scholarly and journalistic, concerning them has been one factor in helping historians of England to see similar patterns in the later Tudor and early Stuart eras. Another reason for the new interest in the Puritan Revolution has been the falling away of the old spirit of isolation and of the assumptions of England's separateness from the life of the Continent. Every great nation of the world has witnessed a revolution at some point in the past two hundred years. Englishmen and historians of England's history are now more than eager to show that England too deserves a place in this modern revolutionary world. This new pride in having participated in one of the great revolutions has led to the quiet abandonment of the older name of Puritan Revolution, and also of the term Civil War, and the adoption of the name English Revolution, not of course to be confused with the now underplayed Glorious Revolution.
Crane Brinton's brilliant study Anatomy of Revolution marks the coming of age and the scholarly acceptance of this current view that the Englishmen of the mid-seventeenth century worked a revolution comparable in all important respects to the classic French Revolution of 1789 and the nearly classical Russian Revolution of 1917. (It is interesting to note that the designation Russian Revolution has gained the ascendancy over the older term Bolshevik Revolution. In the past twenty years revolutions have ceased to be viewed as the work solely of the group or faction that triumphs, and are instead seen as truly national experiences which in the course of time are accepted as a real and good part of the nation's history—experiences to be shared, if not gloried in, by all good citizens.) Although accepting the validity of the term English Revolution, I use the older term Puritan Revolution throughout this essay primarily so that any confusion with the Glorious Revolution can be avoided, and because modern scholarship has really done nothing to undermine its essential accuracy.
To the student of history in the last generation or two the most intriguing aspect of the Puritan Revolution has been the century prior to 1640 plus the first years of the Revolution itself, up to the end of the war and the capture of the king in 1648. The period of the Commonwealth and Protectorate has been relatively slighted. Within the period from 1640-48, the Long Parliament and the roles played by its members individually and as members of one or another of the many subgroups are currently being most systematically investigated.
The vital question historians are trying valiantly to answer is what caused the Revolution? During the past three hundred years a variety of answers has been suggested, but none has as yet been found wholly acceptable for more than a generation or two. To Samuel Rawson Gardiner, whose many volumes covering the period from 1603 to 1656 constitute the classic history of the era, the Revolution was indeed a Puritan revolt against the Anglican establishment supported by the crown and the aristocracy, and at the same time a struggle for liberty against the encroachments of the royal prerogative. J. R. Tanner did not challenge this interpretation, but emphasized the constitutional aspects of the struggle. In his English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century the Puritan Revolution was seen as a violent period on the continuum leading from Tudor absolutism to Victorian parliamentarism. Since the interregnum went too far in the other direction, the Restoration was necessary to restore a balance so that the smooth evolutionary development of the constitution could be resumed.
These late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century religious, constitutional, and libertarian analyses were to be cast into oblivion by the work of R. H. Tawney. In his study of the gentry from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries he found that the economic and social rise of this new class was upsetting the balance of the old society and the constitution that reflected it. The Long Parliament could now be seen as representing new social forces struggling against the crown and church which stood for a way of life that was becoming anachronistic. Tawney's work has had a profound impact upon subsequent study of Tudor and Stuart history. The period he dealt with has even come to be called "Tawney's Century." H. R. Trevor-Roper has challenged Tawney's work, but not his fundamental point of view. He saw a divided gentry where Tawney had seen a united one. To Trevor-Roper the Revolution witnessed the clash between that part of the gentry that had successfully adjusted to the new techniques of making money—modern methods of estate management and sharing in the profits to be made by cooperating with the court—and the older type of gentry that continued to operate their estates in the old way and did not share in the riches available to those at court. Thus the declining gentry went to war against the rising gentry.
To these two variations on the same basic theme Christopher Hill added a more thoroughgoing Marxist touch. For Hill the Revolution was the point in English history when the new industrial and commercial capitalist bourgeoisie went to war to supplant the landed, feudal interest. Hill's theme was developed during the 1930s and has proved to be very short-lived, being abandoned by its own author in the 1960s. In his recent survey of seventeenth-century English history Hill has gone back to the old theme of court versus country: a theme that Trevor-Roper was actually expounding under a different name, and that both Gardiner and Tanner had been developing in their own ways.
Even though the recent economic interpretations are not really out of line with the nineteenth-century Whig approach exemplified by Gardiner and Tanner, there is one fundamental difference. The willingness to see England as having shared the continental revolutionary experience is still with us. In his latest book, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, Hill assumes that as the French Revolution was preceded by the century of Englightenment, or revolution in science and philosophy, so must the Puritan Revolution have been preceded by its intellectual revolution. Yet in his conclusion he says, "Although I left Puritanism out of my analysis of the intellectual origins of the English Revolution, a discussion of science, history, law, repeatedly brought us back to it." Thus we are in a way back to the position of S. R. Gardiner, although it must be admitted that Hill's use of the term "Puritan" connotes far more than the merely religious.
In editing this book, I have accepted the contention that England in the mid-seventeenth century experienced a true revolution. While I find it impossible to say with any certainty what caused the men of 1640 to resort to arms, once armed conflict began it unleashed forces that Tudor and early Stuart society had successfully kept locked up. By 1660, demands for reform or abolition in almost all aspects of English life had been proposed and even fought for. The monarchy, the peerage, parliament, courts, law, marriage, clergy and church, inclosures of land, tithes, centralization of government, imprisonment for debt, the jury system, the common law, the prerogative courts, probating of wills, the system of registering real estate transactions, taxation were all brought into question. Whether the intellectual revolution that Christopher Hill described really occurred is debatable, but there is no denying that once hostilities began all the ingredients for a social and intellectual revolution were at hand. The Restoration of 1660 is largely to be explained by the extreme nature of so many of the proposals for change in the twenty preceding years.
Whether or not one goes back to the mid-sixteenth century to begin the study of those social and economic changes that a century later were to lead to war, there is no denying that social and economic factors were joined by constitutional, political, and religious ones with the accession of James I to the throne in 1603. The fine balance that had been maintained by the great Queen during her last years was to be seriously upset within months of self-styled Solomon's arrival in England. A king almost from the moment of his birth, he had been educated both by some of the finest minds in the British Isles and by the poverty and near anarchy that were to be the economic and political sides of his inheritance. As king of Scotland he had reigned over an almost ungovernable people. Finding money to provide food for his household was a constant worry. It is no wonder that this precocious young scholar would turn to the tenets of divine-right monarchy for intellectual succor. His True Law of Free Monarchy with its assertion that the king was to his people what God was to mankind represents not his actual role as Scottish king but his goals as king of England. A lifetime of penury in Scotland led him to look upon England almost as an El Dorado. Little did he realize the role that parliament and the common law courts had already attained in England. Perhaps even less did he understand the great financial strain under which the English Queen had labored for most of her forty-five-year reign. Of the constitutional and economic realities of England he was in complete ignorance. While he was a scholar by nature, he was a king by birth and had in consequence a far greater interest in teaching his new subjects than in learning from them. The enthusiasm with which England greeted his accession soon turned to disenchantment. During the next thirty-seven years the fabric of Tudor society was sufficiently torn at the seams to make armed revolution possible if not inevitable.
It is how one looks at the increasingly disparate forces in society that determines the view one takes as to the causes of the Puritan Revolution. Therefore, rather than merely to recount the more important events of the reigns of James I and Charles I, it will be more useful to refer briefly to the various contending elements in English society and see how each stood on the eve of the convention of the Long Parliament.
Regardless of which interpretation of the Revolution one subscribes to, there is no denying that early Stuart England was in the throes of a constitutional crisis. The seventeenth century was an age of absolutism throughout Western Europe. The Tudors had brought the powers of the crown to a height never before seen in England. Where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had wielded this great power with a sureness of touch that reflected their essential oneness with the peoples they ruled, the early Stuarts were totally lacking in the political and personal qualities necessary to maintain the equilibrium. The Tudors had brought parliament into the center of affairs, allowing it to discuss and take part in the determination of the most important matters of national concern. The Tudor crown never stood higher than when in parliament. The Stuarts neither understood the role that parliament had acquired, nor did they seem interested in learning. Where Henry VIII and Elizabeth had been able to provide leadership in both houses by seeing that their chief councillors were among the members, the Stuarts tended to let their leadership in parliament go by default. During the parliaments of James I and Charles I there emerged a small group of men sufficiently experienced in the ways of parliament, sufficiently concerned with the national welfare, and sufficiently capable of providing an indigenous leadership to be by 1640 in a position to confront the king with a coherent program of reform. The days of mere opposition were now over. Parliament had taken the initiative.
In addition to the crown and parliament, however, there was a third contestant in the struggle for sovereignty: the common law. In Elizabeth's reign the concept of sovereignty began to be discussed. (Such discussions were underway in France as well.) The sovereignty of
king-in-parliament that the Elizabethans had accepted was now under attack. James I was championing royal sovereignty. In the early days of the Long Parliament, Henry Parker put forth the first defense of parliamentary sovereignty. But the real rival to James's claims was the common law itself. The common law judges, under the leadership and inspiration of Sir Edward Coke, were calling for a return to fundamental law. For Coke the whole body of the common law was sovereign, and the law was what the judges said it was. Neither king nor parliament could challenge this supremacy. With three contenders for sovereign power an alliance of two against one was to be expected. Prior to the civil war itself, the natural tendency was for parliament to ally itself with the law and the lawyers. (By the time of the interregnum, however, as we shall see below, the law and the lawyers were beginning to ally themselves with the institution of monarchy against the apparent usurpation of sovereign power by parliament.) The crown's use of the prerogative courts and its ability to manipulate the judges in the common law courts helped move the Parliamentarians away from reliance upon the law and toward open declaration of parliament's sovereignty. The Restoration was based upon the assumption that the Tudor constitution of king-in-parliament was to be reinstated in the seat of sovereignty.
At the root of the constitutional and legal struggle were the dire financial straits the crown had been in from the reign of Henry VIII. The days when the king could "live of his own" at least during peacetime were gone. The barest necessities of court, administration, and defense, not to speak of the settlement of debts already incurred, could not be provided for out of the traditional revenues from crown lands, customs, traditional feudal incidents, and church revenues impropriated by the crown since the Reformation. James I and Charles I were forced to seek new revenues either by an increasing reliance upon parliament or by a combination of reviving long dormant royal rights and creating new devices. In both of these latter cases the crown was dependent upon the co-operation of the courts. Since the Stuarts leaned toward the creation of new devices, taxation came to be by consent of the courts rather than by consent of parliament. This new twist to the constitution tended to alienate parliaments and the common lawyers.
Hand in hand with the breakdown of the Elizabethan constitution went the growing indications of schism in the Elizabethan religious settlement. Just as some historians of the period have emphasized the constitutional crisis, so others have dwelt upon the religious. Where James's political difficulties were partially caused by his ignorance of the English constitution, the same cannot be said about his difficulties with the church. His years of experience with Presbyterians in Scotland had taught him the great importance of preserving the episcopal structure of the English establishment. The Puritan had always regarded the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559 as a temporary stopping point on the road to Geneva. Yet as the years went by it had become increasingly clear to all that the queen regarded her church as a final settlement. By putting a stop to further reforms Elizabeth helped prepare a climate in which many men felt there was no recourse but to pursue their religious ends outside the framework of the establishment. The accession of James I renewed hopes for reform within the Anglican fold. The Hampton Court Conference of 1604 wrote finis to these dreams. James understood all too well the dangers to absolute monarchy that lurked under the name of Presbyterianism. Of course Elizabethan and Jacobean Puritans were by no means all Presbyterians. However, all shades of Puritan thought, plus that of the already separated brethren, were opposed to episcopacy as by law established. Since the church was already sufficiently Protestant in doctrine, the Puritans sought changes in organization, ritual, and the training of a preaching clergy.
The increasing disaffection between James and the Puritans drove the latter more and more into the arms of the Parliamentarians and the common lawyers. Before Charles I ever came to the throne, the ranks of the opposition were being welded together in a common front—a common front that would attract even more support in Charles's reign, and that would stick together until the vicissitudes of war drove a wedge into its membership. Charles's increasing reliance upon the Bishop of London, Laud, and then the latter's elevation to Canterbury, the Privy Council, and the Lord Treasurership simply threw great numbers of good Anglicans as well into the arms of the opposition. Once Laud and Charles succeeded in alienating Scotland, the unity of England was well-nigh destroyed.
Thus it was that the fabric of Elizabethan society, which had begun to show signs of strain in the queen's last years, not only was not restored to a healthy condition under James—the divisive forces became ever greater. The reign of Charles I was to be even more disastrous. Charles's personality and character differed significantly from his father's, but not necessarily for the better. Charles led a blameless private life, in contrast to the debauched life of his father, but both his view of his kingly office and his conduct of the office were to make this new reign even more shameful than the last one. James at least had the saving virtue of understanding issues even if he had not the will and the strength to act according to his understanding. Charles was not nearly so wise as his father. James's weakness of character allowed opposition to the crown to be expended against obviously corrupt advisers like Robert Cart and George Villiers. Public opinion was often given the opportunity to distinguish between the sovereign and his evil advisers, a distinction the English people were always wont to make when offered the opportunity to do so. This distinction was less likely to be made during Charles's reign, since the king's advisers were of a different type and were pursuing policies of a different nature. James's favorites certainly influenced policy, but their principal goal was private and family advancement. Charles's advisers were personally incorruptible, and devoted their efforts—with the king's ardent support—to the pursuit of public policies that were in opposition to the wishes and interests of a growing body of public opinion. By the time Charles was forced to bring eleven years of personal rule to an end and call upon parliament for money to force the Scots to accept the English Prayer Book, the opposition's hatred for his evil advisers—Laud and Strafford—was joined by a growing distrust of the king himself. Laud and Strafford could be attacked openly, the king could not. With the removal of his advisers, Charles was to feel the direct blast of public discontent and distrust.
During the eleven years of personal rule preceding the convention of the Short and Long Parliaments in 1640, Charles I had seemingly found the solution to the problem of how to create on a permanent footing an absolute monarchy. Parliament was non-existent, the courts—common law and prerogative—served the interests of the crown, and money began to come into the royal coffers in sufficient quantities, because of the acquiescence of the courts, as in the Ship-Money case. All that was needed to perpetuate the new system was peace. Internationally Charles maintained his father's policy of peace with Spain and France and the avoidance of involvement in the Thirty Years War. By a religious policy that was more confusing and upsetting to Protestants than to Catholics, any thought of the major Catholic powers uniting against England was made more remote (assuming that the end of the Thirty Years War would have made such a crusade possible). In the absence of a meeting of parliament, there was no institutional device through which concerted opposition to the crown could be organized. English society was still geographically too fragmented and insufficiently concerted to make a successful armed rebellion likely. As in the past, an uprising in one region would probably tend to remain a purely regional affair.
On earlier pages historians' willingness to accept the fact that mid-seventeenth century England had its true continental-style revolution was discussed. Because of the acceptance of the idea of revolution, the question of why it happened takes on new moment. Historians of the French and Russian Revolutions have long been in essential agreement as to the causes, but to accept the fact of revolution in England is to raise the question not only of what caused it but how and why it happened. Throughout English history there is a tendency for moderation and compromise. Why could not the disputes of 1640 be compromised? Whether the Puritan Revolution is thought of as a religious, political, economic, social, or regional conflict, the question remains. Why did war supplant debate and compromise as the solution? Were the issues insoluble any other way? Or had the old basis of consensus that had helped England through her earlier crises—and would help her through subsequent ones—ceased to exist?
It is in seeking answers to these questions that we can see why recent historians—since Tawney—have sought to find massive social transformations such as the rise or fall of the gentry, the crisis of the aristocracy (Lawrence Stone), the decline of the yeoman, or the rise of the bourgeoisie. If English society in the century before the Revolution had been radically transformed, then a sudden (violent) political and religious change would be necessary to create a new and harmonious society as soon as possible. As noted earlier, there is as yet no agreement among historians as to just what were the significant social and economic changes preceding the Revolution. To Tawney the chief factor was the rise of the gentry, to Trevor-Roper it was the question of which gentry were rising and which were falling, to Lawrence Stone it was not the matter of the gentry—rising or falling—but the efforts of the aristocracy to restore themselves to the commanding heights of society that they had occupied in the mid-sixteenth century, had lost by 1603, and had won back by 1640. To Mildred Campbell it was the decline in wealth and numbers of the yeomanry.
Whatever interpretation of the causes of the Puritan Revolution one may choose, there is the inescapable fact that the first year of the Long Parliament saw a very high degree of unity among its members in opposition to the crown and the church. The great cleavages that were supposed to be present in English society did not manifest themselves until after a good deal of reform had been achieved. Both houses were agreed that Strafford and Laud must be removed from the seats of power and be punished. Sir Edward Hyde (the future Earl of Clarendon and adviser to Charles I and II) was himself the member who introduced the bills to abolish the prerogative courts of Star Chamber, High Commission, etc. Therefore of more immediate concern to historians is the need to discover the reasons for the division into factions of this originally united parliament. Why and how was it that John Pym was able to lead about sixty per cent of the House of Commons and a few of the peers into armed rebellion while Hyde and about forty percent of the Commons, together with a large majority of the peers, remained loyal to Charles? The truly interesting question, in fact, is not what were the causes of opposition to the king, but rather, what caused the emergence of a king's party during the first two years of the Long Parliament?
Since the publication of J. H. Hexter's brilliant study of The Reign of King Pym in 1941, several scholars have conducted a minute analysis of the members of the Commons, tracing their "party" affiliations, votes on key issues, religious preferences, and comparing this with their social, economic, educational, geographical, and genealogical backgrounds. The studies of Brunton and Pennington have shown that the only significant differences between Royalists and Parliamentarians are that the latter tended to be older men and had had more previous parliamentary experience. Those who have worked in the fields first plowed by Hexter have shown that within the Parliamentarian group there is a close correlation between religion (Presbyterianism, Independency, the sects) and the degree of militancy of opposition to the king, the church, the lords, etc. However, these later studies were concerned only with the intra-Parliamentarian struggles, not with the differences between Royalists and Parliamentarians. As yet there is no satisfactory answer to the question of what caused the Puritan Revolution, although it is beginning to be understood why, once armed conflict commenced, the Parliamentarians won and why one faction was willing to go to the extreme lengths of killing the king and abolishing the old constitution in both church and state.
It is my own feeling that the most satisfactory explanation of the cause of the Revolution is that which combines a little from all the various schools of thought. There was a struggle for power (or sovereignty) between the crown and the House of Commons. (As noted above, the Parliamentarians had had some previous parliamentary experience, and parliament must be thought of as an institution with a life and traditions transcending those of its individual members.) There certainly was a division between the Anglican and the Puritan religious persuasions. (Admittedly most Anglicans had been opposed to Laud, but with his fall the old Anglican loyalties could once again manifest themselves.) There was no social division, pitting the gentry against the aristocracy. The aristocracy was largely Royalist, and the gentry was split. The split among the gentry tended to be on lines of court versus country and of the North and Western counties against the South and Eastern counties. The North and West were less advanced economically and socially and were more Anglican and even Roman Catholic than the South and East. London went with the Parliamentarians, but many London businessmen individually supported the king. In all these divisions there were many exceptions. Even families were split down the middle, as in the border areas during the American Civil War. In fact, it is probably true to say that most of England was a "border" area, with each group and region merely leaning more to one side than the other.
Once armed conflict began, forces emerged to the surface that few had even suspected were there. Especially after the formation of the New Model Army, with the consequent expectation of victory by parliament, ideas from one extreme to the other, secular and religious, became the objects of debate and of conflict within the New Model Army and parliament. It was the decade from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties that saw England in the throes of a true revolution. The execution of the king in January 1649 and the subsequent abolition of monarchy, House of Lords, and Anglican Church were the high points of revolution in practice. Yet since these momentous acts were all of a negative character, there still lay ahead the task (impossible, as it turned out) of creating new institutions in government, church, law, and society. The failure of the victorious forces led by Cromwell and his Independents to create a system acceptable to the "fanatics" on the left—who sought to create a new Zion—and the majority of the English people on the center and right—who preferred monarchy and the old church—proved to be the undoing of the Commonwealth movement. The Restoration of 1660 looks almost inevitable after a study of the preceding fifteen years. England experienced a true revolution, but it was to be an experience that most Englishmen preferred to forget or ignore for the next three hundred years. It was a movement not without its impact on subsequent developments, but the coup d'état of 1688 has gone down in history as the Glorious Revolution, while the revolution of 1640-1660 was known as the Puritan Revolution throughout the era when Puritans were called either dissenters or non-conformists and suffered under certain limitations on their political rights. Not until the Victorian era, when constitutional monarchy truly came into its own, were the historians and their public to look with any great interest, much less enthusiasm, at the "Good Old Cause." …
D. H. Pennington (essay date 1970)
SOURCE: "The Rebels of 1642," in The English Civil War and After, 1642-1658, edited by R. H. Parry, University of California Press, 1970, pp. 22-40.
[In the following essay, Pennington examines the political issues surrounding the English Revolution, arguing that by the time King Charles I acknowledged the revolutionaries in 1642, a revolution had already taken place within the government: Parliament had already become the ruler of the country.]
There are some phrases and sentences so irresistibly attractive to writers of history that they appear, with minor variations, in an enormous range of books. Some classic favourites ('this was an age of transition'), having served for almost every time and place, slowly fall into disrepute. Others are tied to a single episode; and of these the hardiest may well be the bare statement of fact 'On August 22 Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham.' There is a good chance that it will be followed by the well-authenticated deduction 'The Great Civil War had begun.' Hardly anyone pauses at this dramatic point in the story to consider the significance of the ceremony of raising the standard. To Charles it was a symbolic and self-consciously antiquarian summons to his loyal subjects to perform their duty of aiding him in the crushing of his enemies. But standard-raising was at least as much the action of the feudal baron demanding the military service of his tenants, of the chieftain calling out his clansmen, and above all of the rebel proclaiming his resistance to the government and rallying support. Sir Thomas Wyatt had raised his standard at Maidstone in 1554; the Earl of Northumberland had made the same gesture of revolt in the north in 1569. In 1601 Essex, to his cost, had rejected the advice to leave the capital and set up a standard in Wales. Less than a year before the episode at Nottingham, Sir Phelim O'Neill had gathered behind a standard in Ireland the forces whose reported barbarities had been used to convince the English parliament of the existence of a huge Catholic conspiracy which the king's advisers were suspiciously slow to resist.
The symbolism on that stormy Monday afternoon could hardly have been more unfortunate for royal supporters. Manifestly this was not a monarch in his capital organising the defence of his realm against a minority of traitors: it was an anxious man on a hillside behind the ruinous castle of an insignificant county town, watched by a few hundred supporters and spectators. York, the recognised northern capital, would have made a plausible centre of royal authority; but the Yorkshire gentry had made it clear that their devotion to their king would be strengthened if he would go somewhere else. Lancashire and Wales, where royalism was thought to be stronger, both seemed more remote from the politically effective part of the country. The Trent might at least be a useful line in an unpredictable campaign. Like most of Charles's decisive moments, the standard-raising went badly wrong. In January he had stridden majestically into the House of Commons to shatter his opponents by arresting the five parliamentary leaders, and retreated in stammering confusion when he found they were not there. In April he had appeared in person to take charge of the town of Hull and its store of arms and ammunition. The gates were closed against him, and after a humiliating attempt to bargain with Sir John Hotham he had gone away. Now he had returned to Nottingham after abandoning without a blow the attempt to occupy Coventry. Though the intention to raise the standard had been announced well in advance, no one was prepared for a historic ceremony; and no one knew quite what to do.1
The standard was probably designed and painted in Nottingham—Rushworth claimed that it was like the streamers used in the Lord Mayor's show—and had been flown from a turret of the castle before Charles insisted on the formal 'raising'. Whether or not Clarendon was right in reporting that the standard blew down, it is clear that the solemn trumpet calls and the proclamation were pitifully ineffective. Hardly anyone responded to the summons to arms, even when the whole performance was repeated on the two following days. On the twenty-fifth the Earl of Southampton and Sir John Culpepper were sent to their respective Houses of Parliament with proposals for negotiation. Lords and Commons agreed that they would have nothing to say until Charles had not only withdrawn his accusations of treason against their members, but had taken down his standard.2 But their public attitude to the king's action was still an ambiguous, indeed a nonsensical one. Only the death sentence itself more than six years later stated in plain terms the uncompromising view: 'The said Charles Stuart hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament and the people therein represented.'3 In 1642, and throughout the war, M.P.s, legal draftsmen and pamphleteers were trying implausibly to reconcile the obvious facts with the long-established theories. It had been an essential part of their creed that they were demanding only a return to the past and would do nothing to break the continuity of the sovereign state on which the security of their status and property depended. However thin the fiction had worn, they could not admit the main fact on which the nature of the Civil War depended: a revolution in government had already taken place. Parliament had ceased to be a body that from time to time met at the king's behest, brought him the petitions and the subsidies of those of his people it represented, and gave—or occasionally withheld—its assent to the legislation devised by his ministers. It had become the effective ruler of the country. That was why Charles's rebel-like behaviour was more than a superficial parallel.
If we turn back to the writings and speeches of the earlier opponents of Stuart ways of exercising royal power, it is clear that they would not for a moment have accepted this as the logical, or the possible, culmination of their policies. Like their Elizabethan predecessors, they had defended, and tried with some success to increase, the area of state affairs on which parliament was entitled to express its views. They had asserted, with a lot of inconsistency and only partial success, the right of the Commons to control taxation. They had used the clumsy and to some extent fraudulent process of impeaching the king's ministers as a means of reversing policies they disliked. They had devised various methods of removing royal influence over their own proceedings.4 But in the long and ponderous arguments about the nature of'sovereignty' and the relations between the monarch, the law and the people they had not doubted that a great many functions must remain to the king and his ministers. In the 'harmony' that was the mark of the successful constitution, the most exalted and unchallengeable power might be that of the king in parliament. The king out of parliament would still have plenty to do.
It has sometimes puzzled admirers of Sir John Eliot that when his opposition in the parliaments of the 1620s finally landed him in the Tower he occupied some of his time in writing a treatise—a highly derivative one—hardly less austere in its defence of royal sovereignty than James I himself had been.5De lure Majestatis was certainly very different in tone from the speeches and the resolutions in parliament. But it was not in principle incompatible with them. 'Upon good occasion of state' the king could and must exercise ultimate authority. No one went as far in claiming supremacy for parliament as Sir Edward Coke in claiming it for the Common Law: 'The king hath no prerogative but what the Law of the Land allows him.' Round the term 'prerogative' an immense amount of technical and antiquarian argument had developed. 'High', 'special' or 'absolute' prerogative could be distinguished in a variety of tortuous explanations from 'ordinary' prerogative. Sometimes the emphasis was on a right to act in emergency, sometimes on the necessity to do whatever 'the common good' required. The parliamentarians did not deny either of these outright. One of the clearest statements of theory on 'sovereignty' was that made by James Whitelock in 1610.6 The sovereign's power was twofold, 'the one in Parliament as he is assisted with the consent of the whole state, the other out of Parliament … guided merely by his own will'. And the power of the king in parliament could always overrule his power outside it. There were moreover some functions which 'belong to the King only in Parliament'—principally those that involved taking away the property of his subjects. Others, 'by the use and practice of the Commonwealth', it was accepted that he exercised alone.
The conflict went far deeper than theories of the constitution. As the system of Court patronage and venality grew, and the inner circle of royal advisers seemed further and further removed from the well-established community of gentry, lawyers and merchants represented in the Commons, bargains between parliaments and the royal council were harder to reach. But there was no steady progress towards a total breakdown of 'harmony'. In 1624 parliament appeared to be working in happy collaboration with Buckingham himself, voting subsidies, legislating on a wide range of national and local topics, debating foreign policy with the approval of James—'seeing that of my princely fidelity you are invited thereto'. Though the relaxation of tension was largely an accidental product of the twist of Buckingham's irresponsible policy that made the Spanish supporters at Court accuse him of selling out to the opposition, it was the kind of accident that could easily happen again. Even the angry parliament of 1628-9 did not give Charles much cause for alarm. The royal assent to the Petition of Right made, as was soon apparent, little difference to the practical working of the government. Nor was it much sign of courageous determination to resist when members sat on the Speaker to ensure the reading of yet another set of resolutions and then went quietly home at the king's command.
What would happen next no one was eager to predict. It is far too readily assumed, in the light of the events of 1640, that the Personal Rule was an interlude doomed to end as soon as the treasury had to face the strain of a war. There was no inherent economic or administrative reason why the assorted non-parliamentary forms of taxation which enabled the royal government to survive in the years of peace should not have been expanded. In Europe there seemed to be many signs that the days of representative Estates were coming to an end. Richelieu did not find it necessary to summon the Estates General; and though some of the crushing war taxes of Gustavus Adolphus were granted by the Riksdag, others, in face of their ineffectual protests, were not.7 The Cortes of Castile and Aragon had likewise ceased to play an important part in the shaky economy of the Spanish crown. The decisive moment in England that blighted royal absolutism in its infancy came not with the Scottish wars but in 1637, when respectable and unimpassioned gentlemen began to act unlawfully in their opposition to the demands of the government. Why it should have been ship-money that produced the change from the protests of a small minority to direct action by a steadily growing mass of taxpayers is not obvious. As royal taxes went, this one had many merits. Attempts to prove that the money was not really used for the navy at all were unconvincing: it was dealt with outside the old Exchequer routine, on the 'Declared Accounts' system which gave the Council direct control over it, and went straight to naval funds. The assessments were comparatively realistic, and related to separate estimates of the wealth of each county and town. The first year's receipts from the whole country came very close to the estimated amount. There was even provision for lenient treatment of those whose estates were heavily burdened.8
The success of the tax, and the zeal with which the Council watched its progress, were of course added reasons for opposition to it on the part of those who were anxious to see parliamentary control over finance restored. A new assessment, whether or not it was a fair one by any standards, was more distressing than the familiar absurdities of the subsidy books. The sheriff may have been chosen as the official responsible for the county's collection in the hope that this would diminish resentment. But it was a post whose importance had declined, and it was now held, briefly and without much enthusiasm, by a succession of gentry who were within the ruling circle of county society but were seldom its leaders. The great objection of the legally minded organisers of resistance was that unlike all the other forms of royal money-raising this was a tax essentially the same as those that had been recognised as being granted only by parliament. As St John put it at Hampden's trial, a parliamentary grant preserved 'that fundamental propriety which the subject hath in his land and goods'—on the manifestly unrealistic grounds that 'each subject's vote is included in whatever is there done.'9 The finely balanced arguments on each side were far less significant than the fact that the man on trial for his defiance of the royal government was neither a notorious political malcontent nor an emotional puritan. He was not even venting any personal or family ill-will towards the Court or the county establishment. John Hampden was the most improbable of rebel leaders. His virtues as a figure-head were his respectability, his wealth and his widespread connections inside Buckinghamshire and beyond it. The trial, originally the agreed setting for a public debate between lawyers, became a piece of publicity of exactly the kind needed to push the propertied classes gently towards refusal. Hampden's slowly won supporters were men who believed in a system of law the main purpose of which was the protection of property. If the Crown failed to uphold what they regarded as legality, a point was reached where they would uphold it even against the Crown itself. By 1640 less than a quarter of the ship-money demanded was being paid. Once the active resistance had begun, everything seemed to move in its favour. In the absence of parliament, a great variety of centres for discussion and consolidation appeared. The trading companies—Saybrooke, Providence Island, Massachusetts Bay—that were notoriously the preserve of opposition leaders, the puritan congregations, the outstanding gentry 'connections' in the south-west and in the eastern counties have been thoroughly investigated.10 Below the level of the central political leadership nearly every county seems to have developed a group, or separate groups, of gentry whose grievances and resentments were gradually aligned in opposition to the Court. The Laudian Church provided one stimulus to resistance. The one nation-wide organisation that had set itself to inculcate passive obedience to authority went just far enough in its 'popish innovations' and its inquisitorial behaviour to build up anticlerical, and in particular anti-episcopal, feeling among people with little positive inclination towards puritan doctrine. Revelations of popery at Court and among officers of the army had enough foundation to make the wildest rumours plausible. The wars with Scotland might easily have been a disaster for the opposition. Political causes seldom benefit from association with a national enemy, especially one that is carrying out a victorious invasion. But the great majority of parliamentary supporters were at a fairly safe distance from the northern border. The Scots were a less immediate threat than the clumsily managed conscript armies that were supposed to repel them. The government's handling of the peace negotiations was a safe topic for complaint. In any case the main effect of the wars was to produce, at exactly the moment when the opposition was ready to broaden its attack, a new parliament and a new chief minister against whom the hatred of 'thorough' could be concentrated.
Strafford was in some ways a better victim than Buckingham had been. As a renegade from the parliamentary cause he was a natural target for personal retribution. Though his absence in Ireland had made him less directly responsible for the sins of the royal government, it also meant that he had few friends ready to strike a bargain to save him. For popular consumption, the vague charges against him (' … laboured and endeavoured to breed in his Majesty an ill opinion of his subjects … an intention and endeavour to ruin and destroy his Majesty …') and the scandalous phrases attributed to him (' … an army in Ireland which he might employ to reduce this kingdom … no good would be done till some of the aldermen were hanged up …') were more effective than legally demonstrable offences.11 For the opposition lawyers the trial of Strafford was a humiliating defeat. The humiliation for Charles when he surrendered to the demand for his assent to the Bill of Attainder was greater still. What was not so apparent, even to Pym in his brilliantly managed programme, was that the trial was a further stage in the movement of the opposition towards taking over the functions of government. Even the Short Parliament in the spring of 1640 had been primarily an old-style opposition body, denying the subsidies rashly demanded by the Council. A year later the House of Commons refused to accept that failure to prove that Strafford had offended against the law meant that it had no means of overthrowing him. Repellant though the Act of Attainder was in terms of justice to an individual or of constitutional efficiency, it was a decisive step towards ministerial responsibility.
The work of the Long Parliament in 1641 has usually been seen mainly as a succession of statutes demolishing the legal apparatus of royal absolutism. Most of the constitutional legislation could more or less truthfully advertise itself as a return to the old order: 'Whereas by the laws and statutes of this realm …', 'Whereas by the Great Charter many times confirmed in Parliament …', 'Whereas by Act of Parliament made in the first year of the late King Edward III .. '.12 The destruction of the Prerogative Courts could not in itself make any vital difference to the working of royal government. Star Chamber was hated because it enforced, efficiently and sometimes brutally, the social and economic policies of 'thorough'; but it was not an indispensable part of the machinery. Ship-money was declared illegal only after it had ceased to be collected, and knighthood fines only when they could no longer be more than a very minor source of revenue. The statutes were important less for their direct effect than as demonstrations of the king's surrender to parliamentary authority. The only crucial piece of legislation was the very brief enactment, drafted—according to Clarendon's well-known account of it13—in less than an hour and put through as an appendage to Strafford's attainder, which compelled the king to surrender his right of dissolving parliament. This was one part of a change in the whole character of parliament far more revolutionary than anything that had been done to the law-courts or the church. Another part was the increase in the amount of time M.P.s devoted to their work. The Commons, which even in the 1620s had usually met for three or four hours at most in the mornings and then adjourned, now accepted—with some occasional grumbling—that an afternoon sitting was normal and that from time to time it would be proposed that candles should be brought and the sitting continue into the night. Committees were sometimes summoned for 7 a.m. to get through their work before the House met. The Lords, though notably less enthusiastic for long hours, found their own work extended too. Parliament was no longer a body of strangers from remote places who were summoned and sent away at unpredictable intervals: it was as continuous a part of the government as the Council or the Treasury.
From the earliest days of the Long Parliament the 'governing' element in its work developed side by side with the 'opposing' one. It was accepted that subsidies, which the parliaments of the twenties monotonously postponed even when they did not refuse them outright, would have to be voted quickly, and that while high indignation was expressed about illegal collection of Tunnage and Poundage, an immediate arrangement with the farmers of the customs would be necessary to make sure the revenue continued to be paid over. Parliament alone could ensure further loans from the City; and over all these funds it intended to exercise a far more effective control than had ever been attempted before. The armies in the north soon found that they now had two masters, parliament and the Council. In January 1641 the Army Treasurer, Sir William Uvedale, assured his deputy that 'the Parliament is slow, but they will certainly pay all at last'. Sir Jacob Astley observed that 'the Parliament has not been acquainted with the way to pay armies' and that in the Lower House especially there were few who 'know the course thereof. By the spring Uvedale was discovering how to exploit the situation to ease his own problems in distributing inadequate funds. The pay that was to be handed over to Colonel Vavasour on the Warrant of the Lord-General 'must come out of the King's money, yet you must so carry the...
(The entire section is 21009 words.)
William Haller (essay date 1934)
SOURCE: Introduction to Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution 1638-1647, edited by William Haller, Octagon Books, Inc., 1965, pp. 1-8.
[In the following essay, Haller surveys the sources "from which the Puritan doctrine of liberty sprang." He also argues that in revolutionary pamphlets the doctrine of liberty was developed alongside modern English prose.]
The pamphlets of the Puritan Revolution have seemed to later generations like relics of a universe
and yet those "embryon atoms" there engaged in elemental strife were the seeds of the modern world. Controversy in that great...
(The entire section is 11798 words.)
Godfrey Davies (essay date 1939)
SOURCE: "English Political Sermons, 1603-1640," in The Huntington Library Quarterly, No. 1, October, 1939, pp. 1-22.
[In the following essay, Davies examines the role played by English political sermons in forming public opinion about the country's government, and studies the "highly significant attempt by the crown to control pulpit utterances."]
How many sermons were preached throughout the length and breadth of England and Wales during the first forty years of the seventeenth century is utterly unknown, and any estimate must be pure guesswork. Even at the meager allowance of one sermon per parish per...
(The entire section is 8345 words.)
Douglas Bush (essay date 1945)
SOURCE: "Jonson, Donne, and Their Successors," in English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, 1600-1660, Clarendon Press, 1945, pp. 104-69.
[In the following excerpt, Bush surveys the work of several metaphysical poets who wrote as the revolutionary crisis in England developed. He notes their religious affiliations and the ways in which those beliefs influenced their poetry.]
… No one turned so completely away from human to divine love as the author of The Temple (1633).1 Herbert may not electrify the nerves and the imagination so often or so startlingly as Donne, but, instead of...
(The entire section is 8149 words.)
Condren, Conal. Introduction "An Exposition of Lawson's Politica," part II of George Lawson's Politica and the English Revolution, pp. 33-42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Discusses textual concerns related to Politica, a work written in the late 1650s which treats the political and religious issues of the English Revolution and the Interregnum.
Dow, F. D. "Parliamentarians and Republicans." In Radicalism in the English Revolution, 1640-1660, pp. 10-29. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.
Argues that radical ideas regarding political power were not the cause of the...
(The entire section is 620 words.)